The so-called “psychology of free” is as compelling as it is fascinating, while it’s a concept that underpins commercial giveaways and promotions such as “Buy One, Get One Free”.
From a social psychological perspective, this is based on the principle of reciprocity, which dictates that humans have a disposition to return favours that we’ve received from others.
While we have a tendency to view free products and services favourably, however, it’s important to note that not all are created equal. Take virtual private network (VPN) clients, for example, which are often marketed free of charge but may expose your data and web traffic to a raft of threats in the process.
But what are the key dangers when installing a free VPN? Here are a few such considerations to keep in mind when comparing the market!
#1. Free VPNs are More Likely to Track and Monetise Your Data
One of the key reasons to install a VPN is to protect your online data and privacy, but a 2016 study of 283 separate Android clients found that most don’t offer the requisite security to achieve this objective.
The report, which was commissioned by The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), also found that 67% of the VPNs analysed embedded at least one tracking library into their code to monitor users’ online traffic.
Statistically speaking, free VPNs are far more likely to track your data. In fact, the CSIRO data revealed that while 65% of paid VPN providers didn’t track users’ online activity, the corresponding figure for free providers was as low as 28%.
This tracking technology can be used for various purposes, primarily to collate data and sell this to advertisers and create a much-needed revenue stream. Such technology may also be used for analytics, but this data can also be monetised through a number of alternative methods.
Incredibly, 25% of free VPN providers relied on three different trackers, while a further 18% even utilised third-party tracking technology. This may expose your data to a wide range of third parties, affording you little control over how this information is accessed and utilised.
#2. Free VPNs May be Infected With Malware
According to the same 2016 study, of the 10 VPN clients most likely to be infected with malware, six were available for free and without any kind of subscription commitment.
Once again, most of the malware featured on free VPNs is related to advertising, which as we’ve already touched on remains a significant revenue source for complimentary providers.
When you complete a VPN download (you can click here to learn more about this process), it’s crucial that the technology is capable of providing the requisite level of encryption and minimising the risk of malware attacks.
Typically, paid VPNs achieve this objective by using secure remote servers and masking your device’s IP address (and precise geographic location), but free products don’t retain the same level of encryption and are therefore more vulnerable to malware and similar attacks.
So, opting for a paid but competitively priced subscription can deliver huge security benefits that are worth their weight in gold, and ensure that you realise optimal value in exchange for your investment.
#3. Free VPNs May Slow Down Your Connection Speed
In instances where free VPNs fail to fully uphold your privacy and allow third parties access to your data, you may face a number of threats and challenges.
These include those provided by Internet Service Providers (ISPs), who often look to analyse web traffic and identify activities that consume large amounts of data.
This way, they can engage in the practice of targeted bandwidth throttling, which deliberately slows down your connection in order to improve overall network speeds and performance.
This is also a significant issue when you don’t use a VPN at all, so opting for a paid service provider and subscription provides the requisite level of privacy and allows you to indulge pastimes such as gaming and streaming.
Interestingly, some free VPNs also market a basic service that’s largely inadequate, both from the perspective of providing security and privacy.
However, they’ll also offer paid tiers and subscriptions, which customers are subsequently compelled to pay for if they don’t want to risk having a completely ineffective service.
So, if you don’t want to have your usage targeted and bandwidth throttled (or be forced to pay for a subscription service that isn’t up to scratch), you may want to avoid VPNs that are marketed as free completely!